I’m the oldest child and have always been intrigued by birth order stereotypes.
According to Dr. Kevin Leman, a psychologist and the author of The Birth Order Book and The First-Born Advantage, “Firstborn children tend to be achievement-oriented, often performing well in school and thriving in leadership positions.”
Belgian psychologists Vassilis Saroglou and Laure Fiasse wrote in a 2003 paper published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences: “Firstborns tend to be responsible, competitive and conventional, whereas laterborns have to ‘distinguish’ themselves and create a specific niche by being playful, cooperative, and especially, rebellious.”
Here are five things oldest children believe but will never tell you:
1. They feel responsible for their younger siblings, and that’s a huge burden to bear.
Any decisions made by younger siblings, we feel like we are to blame. If it was a good decision, it was thanks to our example. If it was a bad decision, we did something wrong that caused the negative reaction. Everything feels like our fault — even when it’s not.
2. They feel jealous for the improved version of parents their younger siblings get.
Let’s face it, all firstborns are kind of a “trial” child. All the mistakes are made on them and they receive the strict rules. Then the younger siblings come around and the parents have more time, lower expectations, and more money. If there’s a big enough age gap between the oldest and youngest, they could have completely different childhood experiences.
3. They are expected to be a leader yet reprimanded for being bossy.
It’s hard to know how to show up as a first born. We have to set the example and “pave the way” but if we come on too strong, we are told we are too bossy. We can never win.
4. They consider themselves another parent.
The fears and protective instincts are almost just as strong in the oldest child as the mother. And they don’t go away even as they grow.
5. They will never feel successful enough.
Firstborns are stereotyped as perfectionists and over-achievers. No matter what “success” they experience, it will never feel like enough. They seek an amount of approval that most never receive because of their birth order.
So what should parents do for first borns?
1. Check-in with them more often.
Are they feeling burdened? Are they feeling enough?
2. Give them time to be kids.
Being a caregiver at such a young age can be difficult, and they may need reminders to be a kid.
3. Don’t put the pressure on your firstborn to be your eyes and ears.
You are the parent. Sure, your firstborn needs to take on responsibility and help out — but he/she should never be blamed for what you didn’t hear or see yourself.
4. Put less focus on what they DO and more focus onto who they ARE!
This will help lessen the perfectionism or over-achieving tendencies.
5. Say you’re sorry!
Mistakes happen. I’m the firstborn making mistakes on my own firstborn. But it’s important to still say we are sorry — even if it’s years down the road.
Are you a first born? What do you wish your parents knew?